Growing up with footy

?Mr and Mrs Charlton, it?s a boy! What will his name be??

?James, but we?ll call him Jack?

?This father will make sure he grows up to be an avid Balmain fan too!?

?Son, now you?re a big 6 year old, how about we go see your Tigers at Leichhardt Oval on Sunday afternoon??

?Yay! I can see my Tigers!?

Rugby league is part of Australian culture as our main winter sport. For the most part, you usually follow a team (and in my case I do) because mum or dad barracked for them too and indoctrinated you at an early age. Thus, in a way, you don?t choose your footy team, but rather, your footy team chooses you. From the early ages of childhood, when you went because it was ?grown up? to be allowed to the footy ground and you wanted to see your team?s mascot, be that Mark the Magpie, MC Hammerhead or someone in a big Bear suit, time progresses as you grow up. The game changes, the faces, the people, even the culture changes.

In the case of this little boy featured at the beginning of the story in the 1970s, he too, grows up. At school he gets bragging rights for a win on the weekend, after a loss, its his mates who take their turn. Once you watch rugby league, you just keep coming back because it is addictive; the world?s best drug I say. So after this little boy sees his first match at Leichardt Oval, he?ll return many times during his life cheer for his beloved Tigers.

This boy travels to North Sydney Oval, Endeavour Field, Pratten Park, Cumberland Oval, Brookvale, the Cricket Ground and all around Sydney to see his beloved Tigers. Every Sunday afternoon, Jack and his father hop on the bus and go to see the footy, whether it?s across town or in the next suburb.

By the time he is in his late teens and is on the verge of complete independence however, most of his favourite players from his early childhood days of cheering for his Tigers at Leichardt have retired. There?s a new breed of Tigers players out there on the field. The game has changed, too. Newtown is no longer in the competition. We have the first non Sydney teams, Illawarra and Canberra come into the competition. Expansion means this little boy, or rather, young adult, now travels a couple of extra hours to see his Tigers. But, nevertheless, from Penrith to Wollongong, every weekend it?s on the bus, or into the car to follow the Tigers around.

Then come more teams. Brisbane, Gold Coast and Newcastle all join the same year. So now the distances are greater, and there are interstate teams. Now, the average man can?t afford going to every game with the prohibitive cost of travelling the great distances interstate . This is the beginning of the television era.

More teams continue to pop up as the competition expands. Where once it was far enough travelling to Penrith, now there are games in Perth, Adelaide, Auckland, Townsville and Melbourne.

Super League was aberration. We?ve had the Hopoate-date-gate scandal, the Bulldogs salary cap rort and the 2003 Dally M cancellation, but there won?t be a greater scandal in footy history than Super League, unless someone reincarnates the hideous idea. Super League ultimately proved that the game was of the people, by the people for the people and nothing could take it away from them. This was an experience Jack would pass down to his sons and grandsons, but would (hopefully) never be experienced by supporters again.

Apart from this, the experiences of Jack will be more or less replicated in every one of his descendants. The cycle of life continues and the experience of ever changing rugby league continues.

For Jack, from little boy to grandfather, rugby league was his life. After all, it dominates Australian sporting culture. Like all fans, he experienced changes in the game?s dynamics. From semi-professionalism to true professionalism. From a Sydney competition to a national competition. Fitter, faster, stronger players. Sharper tactics constantly being developed by the coaches.

In the end however, the basic fundamentals of our experience of the game remains the same. The face of rugby league is ever changing.

Change isn?t necessarily for the better, but in the end you still can?t get enough rugby league.

?Now grandson, let me tell you about the game when I was your age...?

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