Since the Western Suburbs Magpies and the Balmain Tigers merged in 2000 they have enjoyed very little success. Prior to merging both the Magpies and Balmain were struggling to compete against the top sides. The merger of the 2 clubs seemed like a brilliant idea at the time, and the multi million dollar offer to entice them to do so seemed to good to resist.
It's been nearly 4 years since the merger now, and the Wests Tigers team appears to be weaker than Balmain and Western Suburbs were prior to the merger. The team is sitting comfortably near the bottom of the ladder, and other than some moments of joy the wins are few and very far between. So, what is causing the problem? The club has several issues which I think are stopping them from progressing. I think the clubs biggest problems lie off the field rather than on it. The first and most obvious problem is the geographical location of the two homes. Campbelltown and Leichhardt are 75kms apart, and the cultures of both areas are very different. Both home grounds are sub-standard in my opinion. I don't think this situation of having 2 home grounds is wise in the long term, however I can not see the club ever abandoning 1 of the homes. Why, I hear you ask? This leads me to problem #2
Problem # 2, you see, is with the supporters. Wests Tigers fans come in 3 different variants. There is the Magpies fan, the Balmain fan and the Wests Tigers supporter. I am a Wests Tigers fan myself. I hold absolutely no bias towards either side of the merger. The Magpies and the Balmain fans will protest against any move that seems to favour the other half. This has been the case since day 1 and will be the case for many more years. Sometimes it's a minor protest, like having the magpie on the sleeve, but it's the big decisions that I am concerned about. The Wests tigers need 1 home ground, but this would mean abandoning either Leichhardt or Campbelltown or both, and the fans just would not accept this, and the club administration listens to them for fear of losing 1/3 of the fan base. It could be said that in time the fans will get over the fact that Balmain or the Maggies are no longer in the NRL, and that the decision of a single permanent home can be put off until this happens but the way the team is performing on and off the field a few years could be too late. On the other hand, the club might think that there is a future with 2 home grounds. This would be very silly because both grounds will be requiring major work to improve facilities, why should they have to fix 2 grounds?
St. George Illawarra has 2 bases as well, but the areas covering both the Illawarra and Kogarah areas are virtually bordering. This enables them to promote the club in 1 big area than in 2 isolated pockets of Sydney. The merger between St. George and Illawarra was much more harmonious from the start because St. George dominated that merger. Also, the grounds are in closer proximity to each other so supporters from Kogarah and from Wollongong still feel at home traveling to the further ground. Even the colours of both clubs were the same! However the most important reason the St. George Illawarra merger was more harmonious is because the merger wasn't 50/50. St. George dominated just about every aspect of the marriage. The best thing Illawarra can boast is the socks! More importantly decisions that the administrators of the club make are not seen as favouring either Illawarra or St. George, but the entire St. George Illawarra club.
There is only one way for all Wests Tigers fans to be happy in one harmonious club, and that is to begin to win football games. 2003 has shown signs of eradicating the ‘Easy Beats' tag with some promising signings for 2004. One has to wonder though, if on field performances can fix the major off field problems. Only time will tell.
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